William Frawley: 15 Facts About the Beloved ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘My Three Sons’ Star

From vaudeville to Broadway to a hundred films, he was more than just Fred Mertz and ‘Bub’

If you were to look up the word “curmudgeon,” there’s no doubt that you’d come across a photo of actor William Frawley. And the truth is, his real-life persona directly fed into his two most famous television characters, Fred Mertz on one of classic TV’s biggest hits, I Love Lucy; and Michael Francis “Bub” O’Casey on the long-running Fred MacMurray show, My Three Sons.

At the same time, it was this part of his personality that ended up delighting audiences and kept him on the air pretty consistently between Lucy‘s debut in 1951 and his departure from My Three Sons in 1965. And yet despite these successes, there was so much more to his life and career than most people probably realize. To rectify that, check out the following 15 facts about William Frawley.

1. His mother believed the acting world equated sin

Born William Clement Frawley on February 26, 1887 in Burlington, Iowa, he sang in the choir of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, which led him to pursue roles in shows put on by local theaters. This infuriated his mother as she believed the acting world was the road to sin.

To placate her, he took a job as a stenographer for the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska. After this, he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a court reporter while also managing to get hired for a singing role in the stage musical comedy The Flirting Princess. However, still looking to make his mother happy, he found employment in a different railroad company and moved to St. Louis, Missouri.

2. Things began for him in vaudeville

For a brief time, William and his brother Paul created a vaudeville act, which broke up when Paul was called home by their mother. William, however, decided to push forward, writing a script titled Fun in a Vaudeville Agency, which sold for $500. It undoubtedly served as proof that he had talent, but he just needed to prove it to the rest of the world.

3. He married his only wife in 1914

while working in vaudeville, Frawley met and married the woman who would end up being his only wife: Edna Louise Bloedt. They decided to create what was described as a “light comedy, with singing, dancing and patter,” under the name Frawley and Louise, which they performed around the country. Things didn’t work out for them as they separated in 1921 and were formerly divorced in 1927.

This is only supposition, but the cause could very well be a growing drinking problem on Frawley’s part. In fact, he was fired from the Broadway show That’s My Baby after punching actor Clifton Webb in the nose. One thing we do know is that when he was featured in a 1961 episode of This is Your Life, they brought her out as a surprise and he was absolutely furious.

4. Broadway was a goal he achieved

William Frawley, 1938

He continued the pursuit of singing, getting a job as one in a Denver café. It was there that he met a pianist named Frank Rather, the duo deciding to head to San Francisco with an act they called “A Man, a Piano and a Nut.” Then, in 1925, he found himself on Broadway in the show Merry, Merry followed by Twentieth Century in a dramatic role.

5. William Frawley wanted to break into Hollywood

John Wayne and William Frawley

Appearing in several short films, in 1933 he was featured in the Universal musical Moonlight and Pretzels. This resulted in his moving to Los Angeles, where he signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures and found himself immersed in Hollywood. Between 1933’s Hell and High Water and 1951’s Rhubarb, he worked as a character actor in over a hundred films (including the original Miracle on 34th Street). He was never a star, but worked pretty consistently.

6. By the early 1950s, he was at a career crossroads

Despite the number of credits he’d amassed, by the early 1950s his movie career had slowed to a crawl, which is the primary reason that he began looking at television as a possibility. “With William Frawley at the time,” muses pop culture historian and The Lucy Book author Geoffrey Mark, “we have a man who is in his early 60s. He has been in a hundred films. He has been on the vaudeville stage. He had been a handsome song and dance man who had introduced the songs ‘Carolina in the Morning’ and ‘My Melancholy Baby.’”

He adds, “He’d just made a big Bob Hope film in the form of The Lemon Drop Kid, but he’s beginning to get a reputation for being an alcoholic and undependable. The parts aren’t as many as they used to be, which happens anyway. In show business; you reach a certain age and they just don’t have as many old man parts as they have young man parts.”

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